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Dinner theater

Fuji combines juicy flavors with a touch of cabaret

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ANNOUNCER: For years, the boys were told as children to stop playing with their food. But sometimes it’s OK for food to also be entertainment, especially when it involves sharp knives, a little ginsu flair and quality meat.  But that’s not the real story here. Lacey received another homegrown, made from scratch, not a fast food, restaurant (as in that is a novel thing).  Fuji Japanese Steak House opened two months ago, and you’d better have reservations.

JASON:  I don’t see anything wrong with playing with my food.

JAKE: No comment.

JASON: Fuji is a nice addition to a community that struggles to deliver many quality restaurants.  It’s a barren landscape of teriyaki joints and fried foods.  Believe me, when we are hungry, it isn’t often someone shouts, “Let’s go eat in Lacey.”  They’ll shout, “Let’s go get a doughnut, or an egg roll or a Slim Jim,” and not much else.

JAKE: I enjoy Fuji Japanese Steak House. I can’t help it. I just love to watch an exhibitionist in action. Maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to Japanese food. It’s a cuisine with more than its fair share of exhibitionist cooks. Why such a conservative culture should produce so many show-off chefs is a mystery (see: “Iron Chef”). But with both sushi and teppanyaki styles of Japanese food preparation, the chef, rather than hiding in the kitchen, doubles as performer. Dining in a Japanese restaurant with a good sushi or teppanyaki chef, you get both dinner and a show.

Which is precisely what led me to Fuji Japanese Steak House — the concept of food as entertainment. A quick primer for those unfamiliar with teppanyaki cooking: In Japanese, a “teppan” is a large metal grill or griddle and “yaki” refers to grilling or searing as a method of cooking. So “teppanyaki” is the Japanese art of cooking foods — meat, fish, vegetables — on a large griddle. What distinguishes teppanyaki from griddle cooking in regular restaurants and diners is that it’s usually done right at your table. In fact, in most teppanyaki restaurants the stove is the table.

JASON: Hello? Remember I’m here, too.

JAKE: Shhhh! 

Out at Fuji, customers are seated at three-sided tables with a very large teppan grill in the middle. You sit around the perimeter of the grill. But try to resist the temptation to reach over and touch the grill to see if it’s hot. It’s hot.

And unless you show up at the restaurant with a large group (eight), be prepared to sup with strangers. A party of two or four will usually be seated at Fuji with other guests. But don’t worry, that communal style of dining is all part of the fun and the Japanese servers at Fuji are skilled at keeping checks separate.

JASON: Fuji has its up and downs.  On the less than friendly side, our server never brought the drink orders right — or, more to the point, at all. I ordered a second drink right before my steak was high-yawed, then canceled it after dessert. 

JAKE: The bartender worked his bartender’s bible, but nailed my Singapore Sling. Giant bottle of Kirin and Sapporo goodness are a sure thing.

On my two visits, I had attentive service but two botched meal orders.  The lobster hid my first night; our teppanyaki chef pushed steak toward me instead of the requested filet mignon on the second visit.  Not sure if he was yanking my yaki or not.  The filet is the better choice. 

JASON: I felt lucky on two fronts.  First, I showed up on a busy Saturday night without a reservation and got in.  Second, we had a highly entertaining chef working the grill.  For those who have not experienced the Japanese Steak House, it’s a mix of meat and acrobatics.  We had our 7-year-old son with us, so everything the chef did was to entertain our little guy.  He made a smoking volcano out of an onion, flipped shrimp tails on our plates as a joke, and flung bits of meat into the air for my son to catch with his mouth.  It’s a set show — you can glance around the room at the other cook stations and see those chefs doing the same thing, but it’s still intimate and entertaining.

JAKE: And there are lots of other don’t-try-this-at-home “fun with fire” tricks that pyromaniacal kids especially love. But not just the kids. To be honest, I was dreading the “food as performance” teppanyaki cooking spectacular as much as I dread cliff divers at The Mayan. But I have to admit it was good fun.

The chef usually begins by cooking fried rice. To do so, he (and the teppan chef is always a “he”) flash-fries pre-cooked rice and minced veggies on the tabletop griddle. But here’s the cool part: Fried rice also contains scrambled eggs. Well, not content to simply break open an egg like you or I would do, the teppanyaki chef first balances the egg on a spatula and then tosses it into the air once or twice, deftly catching the egg on the flat spatula without breaking it. I was convinced that our chef was using a hardboiled egg until he tossed it into the air once more and tilted the spatula sideways so that the earthbound egg broke on its edge. It’s a pretty neat trick that I’ve tried a dozen messy times at home without success.

JASON: The food was perfect.  My New York steak was juicy and flavorful, the shrimp sweet and firm, and the lobster rich and tender. Diners can order their meats and seafood in a variety of combos, but the simple steak and shrimp or steak and lobster is the standard.

JAKE: If you’re searching for a way to break the McNuggets or pasta and cheese habit with your youngsters, or just looking for an entertaining way to eat, consider a drive out to Fuji in Lacey. It’s an exhibitionist-lovers delight, complete with flashy knives and flying food.

Fuji Japanese Steak House

Where: 7914 Martin Way, Suite 3, Lacey, 360.459.4499

Hours: Lunch, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner Monday-Friday, 5-10 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 4-10 p.m.

Scene: It’s one big room with 10 grill stations.  Stark with a few Japanese relics — nothing fancy but certainly tasteful.  Barbie-size bar in foyer.

Menu: Excellent  quality of steak and seafood — but it’s the entertaining chefs that make the experience worthwhile.

Drinkies: A fun bar list with lots of juice-flavored  cocktails including rum punches and tropical martinis.

Damage: Two people enjoying two drinks can expect to pay roughly $70 for the evening.

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